Audience Theories

When we view a media text, the creator of the text always has some sort of message that they want the audience to receive. There are many theories as to how the audience best receives the message.

The Hypodermic Needle Model
This was the first audience theory that tried to suggest that mass media had an effect on it’s audience in a new way. This theory was invented in the 1920’s when mass media was still in it’s infancy (Radio was only just beginning it’s boom) and at the time was little more than a theory. The theory suggests that audiences receive messages and information passively from the media text. What this translates to is that if I have every character in my media text drinking cans of Coca-Cola, then without even realising it, my audience will have Coca-Cola on their mind. This is the same idea as subliminal messages. There is a fear with this theory that suggests that showing the audience acts of sexual behaivour or violence will then lead to the audience reciprocating it. This has been most recently brought to the public eye with the case of The Dark Knight Rises shootings in Colorado.
The Two-Step Flow
The problem with The Hypodermic Needle Model, was that it wasn’t specific enough. It didn’t go into enough detail about the relationship between the audience and the media text. As The Hypodermic Needle suggested, audiences didn’t turn into brainwashed clones, so people began to search for a better answer. They came up with The Two-Step Flow. Paul Lazarsfeld, Bernard Berelson and Hazel Gaudet examined the voters’ decision making process in the 1940 Presidential election between FDR and Wendall Willkie. They found that instead of audiences receiving information directly from the media text, audiences received information through an “opinion leader”, who then communicates the message to the more passive members of their groups. The researchers concluded that social factors played a key role in the way audiences interpreted media texts. This translates to things such as celebrity endorsements in today’s society.
Uses and Gratification
Heading into the 1960’s researchers began to find a new movement in audience theories as the first generation to grow up with televisions became Adults. They found that this new wave of audience chose what texts they were viewing and
Reception Theory
This final theory is the most recent one and is based on Stuart Hall’s encoding and decoding model. This theory states that the media text is “coded” by the media producer and then “decoded” by the audience. This is theory means that although the media producer may have a desired meaning, the audience can interpret the meaning as something else. For example, I could make a terrible horror film that the audience would find funny. To avoid this situation, the media producer would use certain codes and conventions to try and get their message across. For example, the reason why my horror film was funny is because I had a laugh track on when people were dying. A code and convention of a horror film would be violin music.

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